Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Radice, whose commitment to the European cause is long-standing and equivalent to that of any other. The temptation simply to say that I adopt the speeches of my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace and that of the most reverend Primate is almost overwhelming.
I am deeply disappointed by the outcome of the referendum and I wish to draw some conclusions from that. I hope that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, will not feel it too presumptuous of me if I say that, from time to time in her speech introducing the debate, I felt more than an echo of Candide: “Everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”. Unhappily, it is not.
My disappointment, like that of others, has only been exacerbated by the rise in racial incidents which make me reluctant to believe that this is still my country. Those who have led us out of Europe bear a heavy responsibility which I have yet to see them accept or embrace. Mr Johnson, whose fondness for cricket is well established, has retired to the pavilion, having been run out by his partner. Mr Farage has resigned—not for the first, but for the third time—and I think we can believe, with some confidence, that this may not be the end of the chapter.
The truth is that never in peacetime has the United Kingdom faced such uncertainty with such little prospect of early resolution. We are divided socially, politically and economically, and—this is a matter close to the heart of all of us from Scotland—the very future of the United Kingdom is now at stake. Issues of this kind are often explained by the theory of unintended consequences. I have a different theory—the theory of inevitable consequences. It is a theory that we may have cause to revisit tomorrow after the publication of the Chilcot report. We have alienated a generation of young people. If noble Lords doubt that, they should look at the demonstrations and see the average age of those demonstrating with such commitment and enthusiasm.
We have embarked upon a period of economic uncertainty which is gradually, although not necessarily perceptibly, beginning to affect decision-making. This is not about the stock market or even about the pound. It is about the decisions being made in boardrooms about not to invest, not to expand and to consider whether the best interests of their businesses would be served if they were located in the European Union.
There is a paradox. The regions which have had most economic assistance from the European Development Fund have rejected the European Union. How shall we provide the substitute finance in order to compensate them for that unwise decision? The regions most likely to be adversely affected are among those who decided to vote to leave. Again, how shall we deal with the issues of housing, education and transport which may have prompted these individuals to leave the European Union? What about talented individuals and professionals with portable employment skills, such as surgeons and those in information technology, who are increasingly being said to be ready to leave the United Kingdom.
We have just had from the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, assurances that we entering a new golden age of economic success. Sunlit uplands was the only expression he did not use. We are going to have increased influence in the world but my question is when? No one has yet been able to give an assessment, or indeed made an effort, to lay down a date by which we will enter this combination of Arcadia and Utopia. Any party which went to the country in a general election, effecting to offer promising economic progress, but which could not state the date of it, would be laughed out of court—and rightly. Yet, this is the proposition which the people of the United Kingdom are being invited to accept.
There are two inevitable consequences and it is worth looking outside the United Kingdom. First, the efforts of the European Union to deal with Mr Putin will inevitably be diminished by the departure of the United Kingdom from the Union. Mr Putin has two objectives; they are there for all to see—the destabilising of the European Union and the undermining of NATO. We have helped to destabilise the European Union by the decision we now propose to take. Also the relationship which we enjoy with our closest ally, the United States, will inevitably be different, not least because, of course, President Obama went out of his way to say how important it was for the United States that Great Britain was an active member of the European Union, echoing the policy followed by the White House since the days of President Kennedy. Inevitably, the United States will look for a closer relationship with another country in Europe. That is an inevitable consequence of what we are about to do. I think it is equally inevitable that that relationship will be with Germany, echoing the relationship between George Bush senior and Chancellor Schmidt, albeit that that was some years ago. None the less, it was a productive one.
It is said that we are all Brexiters now. Well, I am not a Brexiter and I hold fast to my belief in the European Union for all its faults. I draw attention to this fact: those of us who argued to stay in were willing to acknowledge the faults in the European Union. However, I never heard those who argued to leave acknowledge any of the merits or advantages of doing so. How long will these negotiations that we are talking about take and how easy will they be? The 27 members with whom we shall negotiate will inevitably be bound to follow their own national interests—how could they do otherwise?—particularly Angela Merkel and Mr Hollande, both of whom have general elections next year which already promise to be fraught with difficulty for them. What will be the role of the legislators? Have we to accept anything and everything which is put before us? An unelected House is in a different position from the other place. What is my responsibility, and that of all other noble Lords, if legislation is put before us which we regard as defective or not part of a sufficiently generous settlement between ourselves and the rest of the European Union? Are we simply to accept these things without quibble? Are we simply to say, “Yes, the people have spoken, therefore we must follow that, even if it is our considered and conscientious judgment that to do so in a particular area of legislation is not the correct thing to do”.?
I discount the possibility of a second referendum. I also discount the possibility of a successful challenge in the courts. However, I say this: those who have brought us out dream of an England that never was and a United Kingdom that never can be. We have set ourselves on that path. It is inevitable that I should follow it, but I tell the House this: I do so with a heavy heart.